Monday, January 26, 2015

B. Ray Hawke

Elemental abundances (plotted by 5° square, and additionally in higher definitions for H and Fe respectively) in data gleaned from the 570 day mission of Lunar Prospector (1998-1999) [NASA].
Sadly, we receive news of the passing of B. Ray Hawke, whose contribution to a vast body of work can be sampled only by a glance at merely at a partial list of the 322 papers, authored and co-authored, and presented to the annual Lunar and Planetary Sciences Conference, HERE

Requiescat in pace

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Space Week lifts off in Israel

Google Lunar X Prize Team SpaceIL takes center stage as Israel kicks off Space Week, January 25, 2015 [lp].
David Shamah
Times of Israel

Israelis are looking to the stars once again, as Space Week begins Sunday, with exhibits, lectures, contests, demonstrations and more showing off Israel’s prowess in space tech. The event is perhaps more relevant this year than ever, according to Dr. Isaac Ben-Israel, chairman of the Israel Space Agency (ISA), because this year the core tech that will bring Israel to the moon needs to be finished.

2015 was set to be the “year of space” for Israel as well as for many other countries that have teams competing for a $20 million prize in the Google Lunar X Prize space race contest. The mission for the moon-bound spaceships: to take high-definition video and beam it back to earth, and explore the surface of the moon by moving, or sending out a vehicle, that will move 500 meters along the moon’s surface.

Thirty-three teams entered the contest when it was first announced in 2007; today, 18 remain, but only five, including Israel’s team, are thought by industry experts to be making significant progress on their projects.

The original end-of-2015 deadline has been pushed back to December 31, 2016, but the core technology for the Israeli craft being built by SpaceIL, the organization that intends to win the prize on Israel’s behalf, needs to be completed soon.

Read the full article, HERE.

On the beach with GLXP Team Hakuto

GLXP Team Hakuto lunar rover and backup under go deployment and rugged hazard and slope avoidance testing, on the beach in Hamamatsu  [Tim Stevens/c|net].
Tim Stevens

Before you blast off to the moon in search of $30 million offered as part of the Google Lunar X Prize -- or the juicy $20 million grand prize for being the first to get to the moon -- you must make sure all your systems are ready for the harsh realities that exist outside our atmosphere.

Testing in lunar-like conditions while still here on Earth is a complicated thing. Just finding a place remotely like the lunar surface is difficult. However, if you're in Japan, one place reigns supreme: the sand dunes outside Hamamatsu. This is where we found Team Hakuto, lone Japanese team competing for the GLXP, and one of five teams in the running for $6 million in interim, milestone prizes.

Many of Team Hakuto's members made the trip to Hamamatsu from Tohoku University, located far to the north in Sendai. While they escaped a blizzard, they arrived only to find winds well in excess of 30mph and temperatures hovering right around freezing. These were not ideal conditions for wandering up the beach -- nor for driving rovers across it.

Still, Team Hakuto went to work prepping not one, but two rovers: MoonRaker and Tetris. The first, the bigger of the two, is named not after the James Bond novel and movie of the same name, but rather some legendary English smugglers in the 18th century.

Hakuto's sub-rover Tetris, designed to explore the interior of one of the Moon's newly discovered mare pit craters [Tim Stevens / c|net].
According to the tale, on one clear evening two men were using rakes to scour the bottom of a lake in which some barrels of brandy had been hidden to avoid customs. Officers of the law wandered by and asked what they were up to, to which they replied they were attempting to rake some cheese in from the moon. The officers laughed and continued on their way, leaving the smugglers free to recover their stash of booze.

The mare pit crater in the Sea of Tranquility (8.337°N, 33.219°E) has been surveyed from LRO (by the LROC team that discovered it) and proposed its potential value as natural shelter from cosmic rays, micro-meteors and extreme temperature swings [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].
Team Hakuto, is in search of neither dairy products nor spirits, instead hoping to rake in $20 million for being the first commercial team to land on the moon and cover 500 meters while beaming back high-definition footage. However, the team also hopes to check out some lunar real estate, which is where the second rover, Tetris, comes in.

Read Tim Steven's full article HERE
View his accompanying Hamamatsu gallery
Catch up on extensive GLXP team coverage by c|net HERE.

Palazzo to push lunar surface expeditions

U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo's district includes NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center [Rollcall].
Deborah Barfield Berry and Ledyard King
Hattiesburg American

Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-MS) plans to use his chairmanship of a House panel on space this year to again promote a return-to-the-moon mission and lobby against President Obama's plan to use an asteroid as a stepping-stone to remote sensing Mars from martian orbit.

Palazzo also chaired the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Space in the last Congress, but this year he sees a possible boost for his priorities in the GOP's takeover of the Senate.

"With the expanded majorities, we're going to continue to put an emphasis on America remaining the leader in space," Palazzo said in a recent interview. "America's leadership in space is no longer just a matter of national pride, it's become a matter of national security."

US Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), new chairman of the Commerce Subcommittee on Science, Space and Competitiveness, outlined plans to "focus NASA on its core mission, exploring Space and more of it," on January 14 [AP].
One pressing issue this year, he said, will be helping NASA craft a "road map."

"Right now, they say, 'We're going to Mars,'" Palazzo said of NASA officials. "Well, that's great, but they haven't said how we're going to get there. So no one knows what to build, how to build it, when to build it or how to pay for it."

He said the moon, which the U.S. last visited in 1972, is a more logical route to the Red Planet than an asteroid.

Orion and Altair: architecture envisioned within NASA in 2007, before Congress, acting on the recommendation the Obama administration, eliminated research and development for surface expeditions on the Moon and on Mars. Along with operations in Cislunar space or retrieving an asteroid NASA's leadership today proposes robotic exploration of the martian surface and of Phobos controlled from Mars orbit [NASA/Frassinito & Associates].
"I think most people agree, just because we've done it doesn't mean we can't do it again," Palazzo said.

Palazzo's district is home to Stennis Space Center, a rocket testing site that Palazzo said employs more than 4,000 workers.

But with limited funding for NASA, it will be harder for Palazzo and other supporters of a lunar mission to win support, said Stephen Rozman, a political scientist at Tougaloo College in Mississippi.

"They're going to have to show a real reason for rebuilding or taking the program to the next level right now," he said.

Read the entire article HERE.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Al Worden: 'NASA took a giant step backwards'

Brief walk in Deep Space: Apollo 15 command module pilot Al Worden leaves the confines of Endeavour for the first time in ten days, to retrieve film and data from the SIMS bay of the service module. The 39 minute spacewalk, August 5, 1971, took place as spacecraft, crew and cargo (including 77 kg of lunar samples) were steadily accelerating toward high-speed reentry and splashdown 30 hours later [NASA/JSC].
Apollo 15 command module pilot
Al Worden, with one of the controversial
souvenir flags flown with 1971 mission.
Cornelia Borrmann
Deutsche Welle

DW: What comes to mind when you see the moon at night?

Alfred M. Worden: Well, it's been more than 43 years since I was there. And I think if you go anywhere, 43 years later those memories are pretty dim in your mind, and it's pretty hard to recapture that. But I will tell you - if the moon is right, and particularly if I have some young people with me, I use it as a training tool to get them excited about astronomy. So I do use the moon, but don't just look at the moon and philosophize about what I did.

You witnessed magic moments of manned space flight - the Apollo era. How was it?

Every single person who worked on the program had one goal in mind: Get the guys on the moon and bring them back safely. There was no bureaucracy. If we had a problem, we sat around a table, we discussed it, and we decided then what to do. We listened to everybody. And then we gave an opinion. And we got through a lot of technical issues very quickly and came to the right conclusions, because everybody came together at the work level.

Nobody was trying to improve their position or ensure that their position did not go away. We did not have any managers that were jockeying for position to go higher. Everybody tried to do what was right to go to moon.

Read the full Berlin interview, HERE.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Moon Express strains at its Kennedy tether

Google Lunar X-Prize competitor Moon Express test article MTV-1X takes its maiden tethered flight and new facilities recently opened at Kennedy Space Center's historic Space Launch Complex 36, where the early Atlas ICBM was developed and Surveyor was launched a half century ago. The 80 acre site, procured with the aid of Space Florida, includes a vintage concrete blockhouse the team has christened "Moon Mountain" [CBS News/C|NET].
"Latest in a series of reports by CNET Editor at Large Tim Stevens, traveling the world to track the progress of teams competing for the Google Lunar X-Prize.

"If all goes according to plan.. the Mountain View, California-based Moon Express team's.. lander will make a soft, controlled landing on the moon, look around in high-definition, then lift off again. The lander will touch down a second time at a location at least 500 meters away from the first...

"To see whether Moon Express can pull it off, Stevens traveled to Florida's Kennedy Space Center where Moon Express is testing its MTV-1X -- that is, its "Moon Express Test Vehicle 1 - XPrize Version." Or, more colloquially, the "flying donut," thanks to its toroidal shape. This is effectively a prototype for the final landing vehicle, the MX-1. The MX-1 will be launched into orbit atop a rather large rocket, fly itself across the approximately 240,000 miles to the moon and then orbit there a few times before touching down.

"Moon Mountain." the blockhouse trench and bunker of KSC SLC 36, focus of 80 acre proving ground in site of the iconic VAB at Cape Canaveral [CBS News/C|NET].
Moon Express' unorthodox approach to the prize
- CBS News
Private moon firm to sign deal for test flights at Cape
- WTSP/ Tampa Bay, Sarasota
Moon Express to develop SLC-36 for MX-1 lunar lander
- Spaceflight Insider
Blasting off with Moon Express at KSC

Marshall plans eleven cubesats on 2018 SLS debut

The MSA with cubesats tucked away [NASA/MSFC].
Josh Barrett

Exploration Flight Test-1, which launched on December 5, 2014 tested the Orion spacecraft.  The capsule that would take people to Mars went to space for the first time, and it was one of NASA's biggest accomplishments in 2014.  In 2018, the next flight of Orion will be on the Space Launch System (SLS), and it will again be an unmanned test flight.  But this time around, there's going to be some extra things sent to space.

The Marshall Space Flight Center is working on getting the most out of the SLS's tremendous lift capability.  NASA had the novel idea of tucking away eleven different scientific missions on Exploration Mission-1, which would provide otherwise costly access to deep space.

"What we're really excited about is the fact that we're able to take this test flight and actually get science out of it, and we're expanding the capability," said Joseph Pelfry, a deputy project manager at Marshall, who was instrumental in this idea.  "SLS is designed for a lot more payload capability, but we're trying to take advantage of every bit of capability the vehicle has."

Three of the eleven missions have already been selected.  The science payloads must fit in to six-unit cubesats, which are efficient and versatile.  They will be hidden in the multi-vehicle stage adapter (MSA), which is the ring that connects Orion's service module to the top stage of SLS.  Once Orion and the service module disconnect and continue on to orbit the moon, compartments in the MSA will launch the science missions at certain times depending on particular mission.

"Flying these secondary payloads is something we're going to do for missions to come and really provide the science community an opportunity that they haven't had before," Pelfrey said.  "That's what the SLS enables beyond the journey to Mars."

Two missions are being designed at Marshall.  The Near-Earth Asteroid (NEA) Scout and Lunar Flashlight are already approved.  Both will make use of solar sail technology - which uses energy from photons emitted by the sun to create a highly efficient, propulsionless way to explore the solar system. 

Read the full post at, HERE.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The eye of Ceres

Processed animation (JPL PIA19167). The Dawn spacecraft observed Ceres for an hour on January 13, 2015, from 383,000 kilometers. Ceres is comparable in size with the minor axis of Texas. A bit more than half its surface was observed at a resolution of 27 pixels [NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/PSI].
The hour-long animation of 1 Ceres, using 20 images from the Framing Camera on-board Dawn and released by JPL a few days ago was greatly appreciated, anxious as we are to see both Ceres and, Pluto in the weeks ahead. 

And though it's very rare for the Pioneers to drift focus away from Earth's Moon, we were asked to "steady" the animation, and for convenience sake we decided to proceed with publishing it here.

The "white spot," tracking across the 27 pixel-wide disk, continues to intrigue.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Destination: Moon

New ESA video, an excellent, if not quite comprehensive, overview on the history of lunar exploration capped off by the Agency's present vision of its future.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Chang'e-5 T1 service module tightens its lunar orbit

The Chang'e-5 T1 service module (with profile of the Xiaofei "Little Flyer" reentry test vehicle that hitched a ride to the Moon in late October, in profile) has been inserted successfully in a 200 x 200 km polar lunar orbit. (Xiaofei returned to Earth November 1, eight days after launch onboard a Long March 3C booster).
Perhaps they just should have called it Chang'e-4.  But Beijing instead waited nearly until the October 24 launch of the Long March 3C rocket carrying Chang'e-5 T1 to the Moon before putting an official name to the engineering test. 

Part of this mission is still underway, though many who are interested outside China's official circles believed the awkwardly named composite mission came to an end when the Xiaofei ("Little Flyer") sample return and high-speed reentry test article arrived back on Earth, November 1.

Xiaofei is recovered after its eight day
journey around the Moon
The China National Space Administration (CNSA) reports the service module of China's "unmanned test lunar orbiter entered a 127-minute orbit on Tuesday, after three orbital transfers since Sunday."

Using backup equipment from the Chang'e-3 together with test articles ahead of the Chang'e-5 sample return mission scheduled for 2017, the CNSA announced it had skipped over the "Chang'e-4" designation, originally a name for a back-up mission if Chang'e-3 had failed, and named the present intermediate test "Chang'e-5 T1." 

Based on released schematics and photographs of both Chang'e-3 and Chang'e-5 T1 vehicles while each was being prepared for launch, the "T1" service module now in lunar orbit does not resemble the earlier orbital science platforms Chang'e-1 or 2. It more likely resembles the now-familiar profile of the Chang'e-3 lander, without the legs.

"To decelerate the craft enough for entering its target orbit," CNSA reported, "the service module conducted three braking maneuvers on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.

"After the circular orbit stabilizes," the T1 service module will continue in polar orbit, at an altitude of 200 km, "for tests to validate key technologies for the next lunar probe mission, Chang'e-5."

"The spacecraft has enough power remaining and is in sound condition," according to CNSA. 

"Technicians on Earth have exercised timely and stable control, with the tasks of tracing the service module and system tests progressing well."

Chang'e-5 T1 was launched on October 24, 2014, and "the service module was separated from the orbiter's Xiaofei return capsule, with the capsule returning to Earth after circling behind the moon during an eight-day mission.

"The service module reached the Earth-Moon second Lagrange Point (L2) in late November and left L2 point January 4, after completing all preset scientific tasks," CNSA reports.

"The orbiter is a test run for the final chapter of China's three step lunar program -- orbiting, landing and returning," CNSA announced. "The obtained data and validated re-entry technology will be used for the development of Chang'e-5, which is slated for launch around 2017.

Related Posts:
It's not bragging if you do it (December 9, 2013)
China's Long March to the Moon (January 14, 2012)

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Windmill's Moon (APOD)

Babak Tafreshi (TWAN)
Explanation: APOD, January 10, 2015: Seen from the Canary Island of Fuerteventura, this bright Full Moon rose at sunset. Reaching its full phase on the night of January 4/5, it was the first Full Moon of the new year and the first to follow December's solstice. Of course, in North America the first Full Moon of January has been known as the Wolf's Moon. But this Full Moon, posed in the twilight above an island of strong winds and traditional windmills, suggests another name. The telephoto image, taken at a distance from the foreground windmill, creates the dramatic comparison in apparent size for windmill and Full Moon.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Moon and Earth by Col. Virts on ISS

Full moon setting
Hardly news, though - from whatever perspective - our inconstant Moon levels all who can see. Some are gifted with better "sky" than others. This moment from the folio of Col. Terry W. Virts, who has been onboard the International Space Station since November 23.
Described as a "moonset," my first, admittedly earthbound, impression is it was almost certainly a "moonrise." Or is that simply my inner nerd coming out?

Awakening the Sleeping Satellite, Koichi Wakata
From ISS, "the Moon ushers in the dawn," Chris Hadfield
Fly me to the Moon - JSC
ISS: Earth's Moon - Expedition 28

From Crew Earth Observations Video -

Moon Glow over the North Pacific - Expedition 38 (January 30, 2014)
Moonset across South America - Expedition 34 (December 29, 2012)

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The mystery of lunar layers

Close-up of Silver Spur (bottom) shows linear “bedding” coincident with topography, suggesting it is real. Its stratigraphic significance is still unknown. From panorama of photographs taken during the initial "Stand-Up" EVA, a 360° survey of the Hadley Rille Delta Apollo 15 landing site from the top hatch of the lunar module Falcon just after midnight (UT), July 31, 1971. Dave Scott's panorama included the layered component atop Mons Hadley Delta, whose slopes 5 km east he and Jim Irwin would later sample and explore [NASA/JSC].
Paul D. Spudis
The Daily Planet
Smithsonian Air & Space

In northern Arizona, a spectacular region of exposed, layered rocks over 6,000 feet thick was carved by the Colorado River. Aptly called the Grand Canyon, it represents over a billion years of Earth’s history. Geologists are able to study the history of past ages in exquisite detail by reading the historical record found in that well-known natural landform. No matter the planet, geologists are always searching for layered rocks. The study of rock layers (stratigraphy, from strata, meaning rock layers) allows scientists to reconstruct the geological history of a region and over time, an entire planet.

The nature of the Moon does not lend itself well to the display of rock layers, yet considerable effort has been expended searching for outcrops. Most layered rocks on the Earth are created from water-laid or wind-blown sediments, and neither of those processes occurs on the Moon. Still, the lunar surface has been built up piecemeal by the sequential deposition of blankets of ejecta—the ground-up rock thrown out radially from the center of impact craters and basins during formation. The overlap relationship of these ejecta deposits allows scientists to reconstruct the history of the Moon, i.e., younger impact craters overlie older ones. This simple methodology has allowed us to decipher the stratigraphy of the Moon.

Exposed layering in an outcrop from the rim of the west wall of Rima Hadley (Hadley Rille). A newly inter-laced Apollo 15 image from a panorama of 500 mm black and white photographs at a range of 1400 meters away, on the opposite rim, at Science Station 9a. Dave Scott, August 2, 1971. Features in this view were successfully compared with LROC NAC observations of the area from low lunar orbit [NASA/JSC].
Parallel bedrock outcrops 50 km southwest of the Apollo 15 landing site, from LRO in orbit 38 years later. (From "Layers near Apollo 15 landing site,") The orbital view shows distinct outcrops occurring at different topographic levels within the rille, strongly suggesting the presence of rock layers. The image of the western rille wall by Dave Scott (above) clearly shows a layered outcrop, about 15 meters thick. Several lines of evidence suggest these lavas are the oldest in the region, about 3.84 billion years old. LROC NAC observation M113941548LE, LRO orbit 1925, November 27, 2009; incidence 59.35° at 50 cm resolution, from 46.04 km over 24.65°N, 2.42°E [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].
Given that geologic history, one might expect that some evidence of rock layering was found in the abundant data returned from the Moon, but such evidence is limited and ambiguous. One of the most startling finds during the Apollo missions was a breathtaking view of Mt. Hadley, a lunar mountain north of the Apollo 15 landing site. Astronauts Dave Scott and Jim Irwin were startled to see evenly spaced, sub-horizontal lines in the mountain, similar in appearance to fine-scale layering present in some terrestrial strata. It looked as though the mountain was a single, gigantic crustal block, uplifted and overturned by the impact that created the nearby Imbrium basin. The layering described by the astronauts greatly intrigued the mission scientists, who were unable to clearly see it in real time in the TV pictures sent to Earth.

When the crew returned to Earth, images taken on the surface dramatically showed this layering (above, below). But this presented scientists with a puzzle. Because large impacts are highly energetic, chaotic events, how could they generate evenly spaced, regular layering? Some team members began to suspect that something else was going on. Ed Wolfe and Red Bailey of the U.S. Geological Survey made scale models of the mountain and dusted it with cement powder. They then photographed it under low, oblique illumination, similar to the lighting conditions of the landing site during the mission. Surprisingly, fine-scale linear features were evident in the laboratory “mountain” (above, right), suggesting that the “layering” seen by the astronauts on the Moon may have been an illusion, caused by the low-angle illumination of a particulate, granular surface.

Stratified outcrops steadily shed house-sized boulders from the central peak of Hausen crater (163.24km; 65.111°S, 271.509°E) the formation of which may have excavated among the Moon deeper vertical columns (29 km), in part because of its location on the rim of South Pole-Aitken impact basin. The deepest materials brought to the surface here might include examples of the Moon's mantle, the original material between the Moon's crust and core; time capsules of the Moon's history before the formation of Hadley and the nearside basins. LROC NAC Commissioning observation M105100555LR, orbit 643, August 16, 2009; incidence 72.47° at 48 cm resolution, from 41.38 km over 64.94°S, 271.84°E [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].
Full-width mosaic from LROC NAC M105100555LR shows a roughly 1100 meter deep drop from the heights of Hausen's central peak to an intermediate slope of talus in a field of view 2.5 km across [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].
Other layered deposits at the Apollo 15 site were less amenable to explanation as an artifact of lighting. A ridge southeast of the landing site named Silver Spur displayed a set of topographic “benches” associated with its apparent layering (below). On Earth, the formation of a bench indicates differential erosion, with hard rocks making up the cliff-forming units and softer rocks being expressed as more gently sloping units. However, such an erosive pattern on the airless, waterless Moon is difficult to envision. To this day, we do not have a good explanation for the origin of Silver Spur. As an example of layering in the highlands, it remains problematical.

Clear and unequivocal layering was observed in the walls of Hadley Rille, a lava channel located near the landing site. In this case, it is easier to accept that we are looking at real layering—the rille cuts into a series of lava flows that cover the landing site (below). Lava flows make up layered deposits on Earth and there is no reason to assume that they wouldn’t do likewise on the Moon. In fact, the layering observed in the walls of Hadley Rille could be significant for another reason, one that may hold great scientific promise for future explorers.

The morphology of the "Aratus CA" collapse pit (24.55°N, 11.78°E) in Mare Serenitatis is unclear, but portions of its southwest rim include layered outcrop, perhaps including a long history of an early intermediate pre-Imbrium period and successive clues to the nature and timing of the catastrophes in our star system's early history called "the Grand Bombardment. 1.74 meter-wide field of view from LROC NAC Commissioning phase observations M104447576LR, LRO orbit 552, August 9, 2009; incidence 57.87° at 1.45 meters resolution, from 145.46 km over 25.15°N, 11.17°E [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].
A roughly 11 km-wide field of view from LROC NAC M104447576LR shows the outcrop in context with the larger Aratus CA feature in west central Mare Serenitatis, formed at early period and laid bare by relatively recent events that overburdened the Serenitatis interior [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].
After a lava flow is extruded on the Moon, it remains exposed to space. There, over millions of years, the impact bombardment of micrometeorites grinds the once solid lava into a powdery soil called regolith. Because the Moon has no atmosphere, this exposed soil layer contains a record of information about the Sun (gases called the solar wind implant atoms of hydrogen and other light elements in the dust grains) and the galaxy (from high-energy cosmic rays). When a layer is formed and then exposed to space for hundreds of millions of years and subsequently buried (like a time capsule) by another, younger lava flow, that earlier ancient regolith would contain information about the Sun and galaxy not as it is now, but as it was billions of years ago. The idea of an ancient, buried regolith (called a “paleo-regolith”) captured scientists’ imaginations—such a deposit would hold information from an interval of known position and duration in the past (determined by isotopically dating the lavas above and below the ancient regolith).

It appears that such an ancient, buried regolith exists in the walls of Hadley Rille. The lowest layers consist of ancient, relatively aluminous lavas called KREEP basalts. From the dating of Apollo 15 samples, we know that these rocks formed 3.84 billion years ago. Over this layered unit is a covered interval about 10-20 meters thick (a friable, slope-forming unit, like regolith). Above this slope-former are two massive rock layers, a thick massive unit and a thin, finely layered unit. These upper two units probably consist of mare basalt lavas of the two types found at the Apollo 15 site, both of which date to around 3.3 billion years. Thus, the regolith lying between these lava flows may hold the record of more than 500 million years of solar and galactic history, an interval from the distant early portion of Solar System evolution.

The now-notable original oblique view of the Tranquillitatis pit crater (8.34°N, 33.22°E), revealing, layer by layer the invaluable history of an area in the universe occupied by Earth. LROC NAC observation M144395745LE, LRO orbit 6413, November 14, 2010; spacecraft and camera slewed 50.46° from orbital nadir, incidence 47.91° at 81 cm resolution, from 44.23 km over 8.75°N, 35.02°E  [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].
In addition to the history of the Sun, this paleo-regolith would also contain fragments of impact-melted rocks and glasses from a distinct, bounded interval of lunar history. Such a sample would allow us to assess whether the impact flux on the Moon in this time period was comparable to or different from the current rate. Such information is relevant to understanding the impact history of the Earth, a factor that we know from lunar science to strongly influence the rate of evolutionary change. Astronauts descending into the rille could sample all of these units in turn, allowing scientists to reconstruct this ancient history in detail. In this sense, Hadley Rille would be analogous to Earth’s Grand Canyon—a slice into the deep time history of the Moon.

New high-resolution images of the Moon from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter show that layered deposits, such as those seen in Hadley Rille, are common in the walls of rilles and impact craters occurring in the maria, where layered lava flows are expected. Finding layering in the highlands is more problematic, although some large ejecta blocks appear to consist of layered rocks, quarried out of the crust during impact. We seek such rock layering on the Moon for the same reasons that geologists look for them on the Earth—as time capsules to be carefully opened and read, giving us new insights into the complex history of the Moon.

Originally published as his Smithsonian Air & Space Daily Planet column, Dr. Spudis is a senior staff scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute. The opinions expressed are those of the author but are better informed than average.

Related Posts:

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Chang'e-3 lander still operational on 1st year anniversary

LROC NAC oblique mosaic M1145007448LR, LRO orbit 20773, January 14, 2014; slew 54° from orbital nadir, incidence 63.54° incidence angle, resolution 2.78 meters from 148.73 km over 45.65°N, 329.82°E [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].
ECNS - The Chang'e-3 lander continues to perform following 13 full lunar days, the solar powered spacecraft began its 14th hibernation, beginning its most lunar night since its soft landing one year ago, this past weekend. 

The People's Daily reported on Monday, the Chang'e-3 lander "will continue to carry out additional tasks."

During its year on the moon's surface, which included 13 full dormancies on lunar nights and awakenings on lunar days, the Chang'e-3 lunar probe endured the extreme cold environment and carried out more than 30 radio surveys, says Cui Yan, chief designer of the Chang'e-3 lunar program at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center (BACC).

"The Chang'e-3 lander has accomplished all its scheduled tasks, but given its good condition, we plan to conduct further experiments to accumulate more technical experience for China's deep space exploration," says Cui.

The Chang'e-3 lunar probe was launched at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China at 1:30 am on Dec 2, 2013, and soft landed on the moon's surface at 12:14 pm on Dec 14 that year. China is the third country to soft land a spacecraft on the surface of an extraterrestrial body.

Related Posts:
LRO: Finding Chang'e-3 (December 15, 2013)
It's not bragging if you do it (December 9, 2013)
Chang'e-3 launched from Xichang (December 1, 2013)
Helping China to the MoonESA (November 29, 2013)
China's Long March to the Moon (January 14, 2012)

20th Release of LRO data to the PDS

It's time in the Sun finally came, last September. Marius K (3.61 km; 9.4°N, 309.3°E), south of its namesake, southeast of Reiner Gamma in Oceanus Procellarum, was among the few places on the lunar surface not previously imaged at high-resolution by LROC cameras. The closer look came at the end of the observational period in the latest, 20th release to the Planetary Data System, December 15, covering roughly mid-June through mid-September 2014. LROC NAC observation M1165144506R, LRO orbit 23602, September 12, 2014; 17.25° incidence angle, resolution 1.07 meters from 105 km over 9.93°N, 309.4°E [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].See a larger reproduction HERE.
Teams operating sensors on-board the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, including the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC), are currently updating the Planetary Data System with another treasure trove of records covering the three months from mid-June through mid-September.

The will be the 20th such Release to the PDS of information gathered from the remarkable LRO which has been orbiting the Moon since June 2009.

Of course, it must be added, this isn't the first time Marius K, transected by Procellarum wrinkle ridges, has been imaged by the LROC Wide Angle Camera. By way of comparison, the small crater is seen here at center in this 34 km-wide field of view in a LROC WAC monochrome (566 nm) mosaic from two sequential passes on July 24, 2011; 63.3 incidence angle, resolution 58.7 meters from 42.16 km [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].
Release 20 of Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter data is now online at the Geosciences Node. This release includes new data acquired between June 15 and September 14, 2014, for CRaTER, Diviner, LAMP, LEND, LOLA, and LROC. Data can be found on the Geosciences Node LRO page. The Lunar Orbital Data Explorer allows one reliable way of searching and downloading LRO data.

Another image really requiring the viewer to select a full-size option to appreciate its detail. A roughly ten kilometer-wide view of the Reiner Gamma contact zone with the Marius Hills, in Oceanus Procellarum. From 20th release of LROC data released to the Planetary Data System (PDS), December 15, 2014. LROC NAC mosaic M1158112330LR, LRO orbit 22614, June 22, 2014; 67.62° incidence angle, resolution 1.07 meters from 105.12 km over 10.32°N, 304.48°E [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].
Full resolution view from the mosaic immediately above, showing on of the out-lying Marius domes apparently subject to the same influences that keep the Reiner Gamma swirl optically immature. Those studying processes on the Moon highly anticipate the tri-monthly releases of LRO data to the PDS, and hasten to search out familiar locations for a fresh perspective, or a first high-resolution view, even more than five years after LRO began operations.
Updates and instructions, etc., are regularly posted to the PDS Lunar Node, HERE.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

ESA to explore lunar probe partnership with Russia

Ten years after planning got underway to place an ESA lander on the rim of Shackleton crater, the design of the MoonNEXT probe was improved by development of the ESA's ATV resupply ship. Still the program was scrapped. But, even as tensions continue between European Union  partners and Russia, ESA's managers have agreed to investigate joining forces with Roscosmos in Russia's lunar program, forestalled by loss of partnership with India, the problem-plagued Fregat vehicle and tight budgets [ESA/Astrium].
Elizabeth Gibney

Science ministers in Europe have resurrected plans to explore the Moon’s surface — and the only strategy currently on the table is to join two uncrewed Russian missions. The developments, which follow the shelving of a proposed European Space Agency (ESA) Moon lander two years ago, come amid growing political tensions between Russia and Western nations.

On 2 December, at a meeting in Luxembourg to determine ESA’s policy, the space agency got the go-ahead and funding to investigate “participation in robotic missions for the exploration of the Moon”. Science ministers from the ESA member states did not approve collaboration with Russia specifically, but at the meeting, ESA scientists presented a proposal to join Russia on its missions to put a lander and a rover on the Moon’s south pole.

Money for lunar exploration will come from a pot of €800 million (US$980 million) contributed by ESA’s member states and dedicated to international space exploration; the pot will primarily pay for activities on the International Space Station and the development of a propulsion module for NASA’s Orion spacecraft, which is eventually designed to carry astronauts to deep space, and was tested on 5 December in an uncrewed space flight.

"There be dragons here," no longer applies to the Moon's nearly always, or permanently, shadowed areas at polar latitudes. The Vision for Space Exploration, before it also was scrapped, developed inertia for a brief second golden age of lunar exploration, and it prioritized scientific goals there.

Above, the state of our knowledge about the Moon's south pole in 1994 is compared with where this knowledge base stands today, illustrating one vast improvement in our understanding of the Moon gained at low cost and with great efficiency
[NASA/GSFC/JPL/DOD/USGS/Caltech/Arizona State University].
In the 45 years since astronauts first walked on the Moon, no European country or space agency has launched a mission to the Moon’s surface. And no lander or astronaut has been to the lunar south pole, a region thought to contain ice and thus deemed a probable spot for any future permanent lunar base. A 12-kilometre-deep crater there might provide access to material from the Moon’s interior, also making it attractive for scientific study, says Ian Crawford, a lunar scientist at Birkbeck, University of London. The ancient material could reveal details of the collision between a Mars-sized planet and early Earth that is thought to have produced the Moon. “The idea that we've ‘been there and done that’ did last for a long time, but that’s gone away now,” says Crawford. “The Moon still has a lot to tell us.”

Read the full article at NATURE, HERE.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Is there an economic case for mining the Moon?

Of necessity, much of the actual work of harvesting resources for true in situ resource utilization (ISRU) will have to be done robotically [Pat Rawlings/SAIC].
Ian Crawford
Birkbeck, University of London

To date, all human economic activity has depended on the material and energy resources of a single planet; understandably, perhaps. It is conceivable though that future advances in space exploration could change this by opening our closed planetary economy to essentially unlimited external resources of energy and raw materials.

Look up at the Moon this evening, and you might be gazing at a solution. The Earth’s closest celestial neighbour seems likely to play a major role and already a number of private companies have been created to explore the possibilities.

It is important to stress that even now, 40 years after the Apollo missions, we still don’t have a complete picture of the Moon’s economic potential, and obtaining one will require a more rigorous programme of lunar exploration than has been undertaken to-date. In part, this is why proposed future lunar exploration missions (such as the recently announced Lunar Mission One) are so important.

"In addition, lunar surface rocks and soils are rich in potentially useful, but heavy (and thus expensive to launch from Earth) raw materials such as magnesium, aluminium, silicon, iron and titanium." - Relative abundances of titanium and iron, as a percentage of weight, plotted against the nearside hemisphere. Note the heaviest incidences appear in the Ocean of Storms and Sea of Tranquility.
Nevertheless, as a result of work over the past four decades, we do now know enough to make a first-order assessment of lunar resource potential. In doing so it is useful to distinguish between three possible future applications of such resources.

Read the full article published at The Conversation, HERE.

NOTE from Mr. Crawford: "This essay is based on a much more detailed review article which will be published next year, and in which references to sources and more extensive discussion will be found here:"

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Dark splotches over high albedo, under a high sun

Unnamed crater (2.2784°N, 116.2125°E) southwest of King, presenting a unique albedo variation in 1.8 km-wide field of view from LROC NAC observation M123812230R, LRO orbit 3380, March 21, 2010; 8.3° incidence angle, resolution 57 cm from 55.36 km over 2.25°N, 116.16°E [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].
Hiroyuki Sato
LROC News System

Impact craters routinely excavate subsurface materials, exposing them in crater walls and in ejecta. The Featured Image highlights an unnamed fresh crater (480 meters in diameter) with numerous dark splotches.

Inside the crater cavity, dark splotches (low reflectance materials) occur from the middle to the trim of the crater and spread outward beyond the rim crest.

Several small craters (less than 100 meters in diameter) with similar dark splotches also occur in this region (outside the area shown above, see next image), suggesting that the dark materials were likely excavated from an extensive subsurface layer. The distribution of the dark halo craters informs us about the horizontal extent of these subsurface materials.

Small craters a few thousand meters north of the dark halo crater (DHC) of interest, above, from the same LROC NAC frame M123812230R. Note the crater right of center bottom may be superposed on the rim of a more ancient depression [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].
The crater in the opening image is found 116 km from the southwestern rim of King crater (76.2 km; 4.96°N, 120.49°E), located in the farside highlands. Unlike in the mare, pyroclastic deposits are unlikely to be the low-reflectance material (seen in the opening image) here in the middle of the highlands with no indication of volcanic activity near here. So, what is this low reflectance layer?

Context view of the location of today's Featured Image in WAC monochrome mosaic (100 m/pix) overlayed by WAC stereo DTM (GLD100, Scholten et al., 2012). The NAC footprint (blue box) and the exact location of the opening image (yellow arrow) are indicated [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University]. 
The rays of Necho crater (36.87 km; 5.25°S, 123.24°E) extend out around 680 kilometers (see image below) crossing over King crater and the area in today's Featured Image. Since the area of opening image is crossed by the Necho ray deposits the excavated dark layer might be the original mature surface (now covered by Necho's high reflectance rays).  

Context view of the area of interest in an orthographic LROC WAC mosaic of low-angle observations of the surrounding hemisphere. Arrow points to the location of the crater of interest, within range of ejecta from King, Necho or perhaps, less likely, Giordano Bruno or Goddard A craters, (not unlike the magnetic anomaly east of Firsov) [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University]. 
Due to the lack of atmosphere on the Moon, the photometric effect is very strong. Thus, it is hard to identify the relationships between the different layers using low-Sun images (images with large incidence angles, near sunrise or sunset); however, high-Sun images (those with low incidence angles, near noon) display clearly the relationships between units, which helps us reconstruct the resurfacing history of this area.

View full-size view of the LROC NAC frame, HERE.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Mottled mound at Firsov

Low-angle incidence view of a curious mound on the floor of Firsov crater (51 km; 4.204°N, 112.697°E). 2.2 km field of view from LROC NAC observation M187506567R [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].
Hiroyuki Sato
LROC News System

Firsov is a 51-km diameter crater located in the farside highlands, approximately 240 km east of King crater. The depth of Firsov's floor from the rim crest is an impressive 4.5 km (that’s 2.5 times the depth of the Grand Canyon in Arizona).

The bright (highly reflective) mound on the crater floor is about 200 meters in height, and 2.5 km in diameter, and really catches your eye. The central portion of the crater floor is relatively flat, suggesting that it at least partially consists of a long-solidified pool of impact-melt; the mound is located within this melt pond deposit.

46 km-wide field of view showing  the high-reflectance mound feature, near center of FriFirsovater, from LROC WAC monochrome (643 nm) observation M176892340CE, LRO orbit 11204, November 25, 2011; 62.51 incidence, resolution 58.62 meters from 43.41 km [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].
A number of previous Featured Image posts explored the origins of mounds occurring inside impact craters. Hypotheses include volcanic eruptions, impact debris, and the squeeze-ups of impact melt.

Today's Featured Image highlights the degradation of these mounds, instead of their origin. The low-incidence angle of the top image (~9°) highlights differences in albedo on the mound top, what causes these bright patches?

Perhaps, as the mound surface degrades over time, the high-reflectance materials are exposed unevenly, for example, due to a bumpy surface morphology, where local, topographically high portions are exposed faster and newly exposed material is immature (and thus brighter).

Alternatively, the mound may be constructed from non-uniform materials and/or compositions that exhibit a range of reflectivities. However, scientists believe that during impacts any compositional differences within the target are homogenized in melt deposits. This mound would be a great place to examine that hypothesis.

The bright mound southeast of center on the floor of Firsov is not the only albedo "anomaly" in the vicinity of Firsov crater. This cycle of overlapping fields of view, juxtapositioning data ranging from LROC WAC-derived elevation models to Clementine UV-VIS color ratio maps from 1994, brings into stark relief the unnamed Copernican era crater northeast of Firsov, and also the dramatic patch of albedo swirls coincident with a locally intense crustal magnetism, photographed from orbit by the crew of Apollo 10. It seems distant and detached, but still these swirls are likely associated with the widely-scattered swirl fields farther to the west at Mare Marginis, on the opposite side of the Moon from the energetic basin-forming impact that formed Mare Orientale 3.1 billion years ago [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].
View full-window, HERE.

Related Posts:
Shiny Mound
Kagami-mochi on the Moon!
Pancakes in a melt pond
Donut Holes
The Domes of Stevinus Crater
That's a Relief